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Ugandan football’s version of the brain drain – what if?

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If 3 (the third conditional clause), is used in English sentences to describe a situation that could have happened in the past had a condition been met.

Many a Ugandan football lover, especially the few privileged to have seen the amazing talent this banana Republic witnessed before the lure of greener socio-economic pastures prevailed over their promising careers.

Looking back over my shoulder, I see the early ’90s when educational scholarships connected by a one Father Cornelius Ryan of St. Henry’s Kitovu spearheaded a scheme that saw the disappearance of several footballers into the United States of America.

Of course, other reasons existed, just like some other destinations and, or middlemen were involved but the principle remains, the football “brain drain” happened and boy oh boy, did it affect “our country, our game”?

To those of us who grew up in Luzira, the departure of Kabuye Patrick, a KCC utility player and Uganda U-23 skipper at the time, meant that the Dream Academy he had initiated became an abortion of sorts. Being the project captain and rearing to emulate Morley Byekwaso and John Ssemakula who had joined KCC, yours truly felt no further urge to keep on dreaming.

»Related: Uganda’s Legends: Ranking the greatest Football players ever

From then on, my mind started digging deep into these moves while trying to assess it’s impact plus forward and backward linkages on football. The other moves included KCC wingers Fred Sekitoleko and Julius Kisekka before Express FC lanky goalkeeper Chris Karama followed suit. When it came to SC Villa, pandemonium broke loose.

Sam Mukasa, a striker in the mold of Magid Musisi had become a Villa player following a tug-of-war with KCC about who actually owned him but the youngster ironically featured in just one match before disappearing into the USA.

Quickly following in his tracks were full-backs Henry Mpagi, Mike Ddungu, and Eng. William Nkemba’s younger brothers Ivan Kawooya and Freddie Kalule. Before the dust settled, tricky wing revelation Peter Byaruhanga “smokie”, Ngumire Robert and later other teams also lost Ahmed Ssenyange “French Cut”, Willy Jaggwe (Entebbe Works), Okongo Bernard (Umeme), Ssebitosi Ismael (Coffee), Obua Rogers and Bakku Vivie (both Police FC).

By 1998, the coaching duo of Asuman Lubowa and Paul Hasule (RIP) had elevated several youngsters to the Cranes team. The team that walloped Rwanda pictures 5-0 courtesy of a Magid Musisi hattrick had the preceding year’s player of the season Hussein Ssali in goal with Arthur Byasiima, Wilbur Musika and Sulaiman Tenywa (who all later eloped to the US).

The 1999 KOBS squad had Villa’s reserve keeper Andrew Jjombwe, dynamic defensive duo of Aggrey Bigala and Geoffrey Bukohore alongside David Obua and Robert Ssejjemba (Police) on a plane into nirvana while another new generation also starting getting slowly decimated when Mugabi Ronald, Mukiibi Ronald, Eric Kamya, Ssemugabi David, Nsereko Steven, Nkurunungi Andrew, Mutumba Swamad, Aloh Francis, Azira Mike, Ssepuuya Eugene and Ssebuyira Jeremiah (Villa) also flew away.

Add the list to the magnificent Henry Kabeta, Benda Edison, Omondi David, Mujib Kasule, Mugisha Godfrey, and Kayondo Jamil among others and you realize what Nas sang about “the baby is being the same time a man is murdered (the beginning and the end)”.

Of course, the list is as endless as COVID contacts of contacts and it is also important to realize that for every Jerry Ajule, there is a Mujib Kasule who saw it appealing to return and become what he has become to Proline FC and Ugandan football at large.

Like Jiba, Godfrey Mugisha “SCOUL” also made the sojourn back albeit retired into coaching and commercial art while the quartet of Obua, Ssepuuya, Tenywa, and Azira came back and competed for Cranes’ slots despite return ticket complexities (the latter actually made the AFCON team). But all in all, the speculation about what might have happened hadn’t it been as it turned out to be continues to remain a mixed conditional tense in the English language.

Imagine this;
1. Ssali Hussein 2. Arthur Byasiima 3. Wilbur Musika 4. Aggrey Bigala 5. Kabuye Patrick 6. Bukohore Geoffrey 7. Ahmed Ssenyange 8. Henry Kabeta 9. Sam Mukasa 10. Kisekka Julius 11. Ssebitosi Ismael subs… Chris Karama, Mukiibi Ronald, Mpagi Henry, Jaggwe Willy, Ssebuyira Jeremiah, Kamya Eric, Byaruhanga Smoky, Ssejjemba Robert, and Bakku Vivie.

I could go on and on, the story has never been told.


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